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Stolen PBE file warrants more attention

As a Financial Systems Manager at Harvard University, whose son is an active member of Phi Beta Epsilon, one of my highest priorities is data security. Hacking into a system and stealing files is regarded as a serious offense. MIT has chosen to interpret certain benign pledge rituals at PBE as hazing while completely ignoring the fact that the basis of the charge stems from a hacked computer file.

The reality is that PBE was the victim of a malicious attack by a competing fraternity designed to ruin PBE’s 2010 rush. PBE is suspended from being recognized as a fraternity while the true guilty parties, the hackers, are ignored and face no consequences. Rather than focusing any attention on the pursuit of the culprits that hacked into the PBE files, MIT has chosen to reward their misdeeds.

MIT is sending the message that it’s ok to hack into computer systems and use whatever you find for nefarious purposes. If this suspension stands, I have no doubt that clandestine computer attacks between rival MIT fraternities will become the norm. I expect better from an institution such as MIT. PBE should be immediately reinstated on these grounds alone.

— Ken Knoblock

MIT was manipulated

I read with interest David Templeton’s September 28 column in The Tech and the rebuttal by R. Krishna Esteva on October 1. Mr. Templeton points out the essential double standard, in dealing with real or apparent rule infractions, as applied in the dorms versus fraternities. He posits that the tendency toward harsh punishment in fraternities is due to a desire to maintain self-governance in the fraternity system.

Taking up this point, Mr. Esteva defends IFC self-governance as an issue of freedom from rules imposed by “outside entities,” including the MIT administration. And while he denies that punishments are excessively harsh “in most cases,” Mr. Esteva also defends harsh punishments as necessary to combat negative stereotypes of fraternities.

What both have omitted was reference to a 2003 feature in The Tech (“A Look At the IFC JudComm”) that presented another possible reason for the self-governance that the IFC enjoys. The article concerned the 2003 revision of JudComm rules, which apparently for the first time gave JudComm the power to suspend or expel a fraternity for infractions. By way of comparison, The Tech interviewed the Inter-Fraternity Council President at the University of Virginia, Ryan M. Ewault, who said that the IFC at UVA had that university’s automatic backing for any decision. The Tech quoted Mr. Ewault as follows: “The university doesn’t really want the liability,” he said, so “when it comes to adjudicating, that’s up to us.”

The other issue that both recent opinion pieces failed to raise is that in a system where a small number of undergraduates have the power to destroy a fraternity, how do we ensure that that power is not used capriciously or maliciously? Are JudComm members given training in handling such weighty matters? Are rules of due process scrupulously followed if the punishment is potentially severe? In the case of PBE, we have an anonymous leaker, providing a document out of context and unrelated to Rush, but timed to cause maximum harm to both PBE as an organization and to its current undergraduate members, who may have to move out of their home.

In retrospect, the result is quite predictable. I would submit that the leaker, who must have had detailed knowledge of the workings of these bodies, in fact predicted it. In the name of fraternity “autonomy,” no serious examination of the due process in this case, or of the double standard in the application of rules, will take place.

Both President Hockfield and Chancellor Clay have now affirmed the judgment of the IFC, as modified by the Division of Student Life. In other words, through fear of liability and lack of leadership, MIT has allowed itself to be manipulated, to the detriment of the student body.

— Steven L. Wertheim PBE ’79